This weekend, September 10th, marks the traditional Asian mid-autumn festival, also known as the mooncake festival. Its origins come from a celebration of the end of autumn harvest, and the bounty that comes with it. In addition, there is intriguing folklore surrounding the concept of longevity and good health.
Here is the story behind the festival, along with tips for living a long and healthy life – even if immortality is not in the cards!
According to legend, there were 10 suns in the sky, and people suffered from the heat. A very strong and kindhearted man, named HouYi, who is skilled in archery, trained himself very hard and shot 9 of the suns down from the sky. As a reward, god gave him an elixir of life.
Although it was a wonderful gift in theory, HouYi did not want to accept it, because it would mean leaving his loving wife, ChangE—also very caring to others—alone on earth. So he hide the elixir in a box.
This seemed like a fine plan, until one day a thief broke into their home when HouYi was away and threatened his wife to give him the elixir. The thief became violent and started breaking things in their house.
ChangE of course did not want this evil person to get the elixir and become immortal, so she drank it herself. Suddenly, she became very light and started floating to the moon, becoming immortal in the process.
When her husband returned home, he was devastated to learn that they would be apart after all. As the legend goes, ChangE and HouYi are forever separated.
Ever since then, on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, when the moon is the most visible, people make round mooncakes—a sweet baked dessert—to pray for the reunion of ChangE and HouYi. The round shape in Chinese also sounds like “family reunion,” which makes the cakes extra symbolic.
Even though the story is based on legend, and immortality might not be the most desired option, everyone can understand our innate desire to live long, healthy lives.
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In the words of a famous Chinese poem:
People may have sorrow or joy, be near or far apart,
The moon may be dim or bright, wax or wane,
This has been going on since the beginning of time.
May we all be blessed with longevity
Though far apart, we are still able to share the beauty of the moon together.